I’m a method writer, sometimes. When that happens the story is not king, it’s the character who counts. And it doesn’t really matter if you even have a story, the character can just be.
Making notes, helps. Doing something the character would do helps. Maybe listen to a song he or she would like. Don’t actually think you are the character, because that may get you into trouble.
He pauses for breath, then lights a cigarette. Then ten years down the line you end up with Pulmonary Fibrosis. Imagine things like cigarettes and shoplifting, it’s safer.
John O’Hara, was an American Novelist of the mid twentieth century. He also wrote some cracking short stories. He went out of fashion and out of print. He’s still out of fashion as far as I can see. It happens to us all. John O’Hara is also the name of a character in my half-written thriller. He’s from New Zealand ; but prefers to be thought of as American. He’s a musical snob; a Lester Bangs for the Nineties – the time period of the novel.
He edits video for a living, is mostly reviled by the poseurs who inhabit the world he is forced to inhabit: television production. I have no idea how it is now for people like John O’Hara; he’s supposed to be out of step with 90s culture, so I expect he’d not even get through the door these days. Maybe he’d be working for free as an unpaid Intern.
John’s world accommodates misfits, in a way that the world today does not. He’s an anachronism even in 1995. But only in London. Other parts of the UK and most of middle America are full of young men like John. But he made a mistake, he headed for London; thinking the place that produced bands like Led Zeppelin and Cream, has been preserved in aspic. Poor old John, not only did he have to contend with Acid jazz and the increasingly mainstream dance culture. He had to rub shoulders with Britpop.
Camden Town, where he works, has a network of independent production companies; the overspill of SoHo. But it also has places like the Good Mixer; a winos boozer that became popular with Britpop types. John would never visit such a place. So I don’t make him go there. He can’t be interested in the big Blur and Oasis feud, because he has no time for either band. But he is steeped in music; its his calling card.
Old fashioned types like John would not just nod along to a song. Nor would he use it for some form of release like dancing or exercise. Although he does dance, but that’s another story.
He wears jeans and un-ironed tee shirts. Converse or Engineer Boots. A denim jacket in summer; a leather jacket, over the denim jacket in winter. He smokes, takes drugs, drinks and is self aware. He gets fashion, but doesn’t go with it.
John O’Hara likes classic rock. He likes the music that was still listened too, outside the confines of Camden Town. He doesn’t really care what you like. He likes what he likes and feels no need to apologise for it.
John likes early ELO. He’s not afraid of the derision such an admission produces. ELO after all were championed by crap Radio One DJs in the Seventies. Men who specialised in prank calls, tearful appeals to run away wives, and novelty songs. John never experienced England or Radio One in the Seventies. He’s aware that bands like ELO have become the preserve of the squares and the decidedly un-rocky; but he’s filtered all that stuff out. He hears the music and nothing else.
The scene I am writing may happen over a few pages; its part of a chapter. Its an aside. John takes charge of someone else’s stereo. He chooses a selection of tracks, from the albums and CDs his friend has on display. He prefers vinyl, but the CD has afforded him access to back-catalogues, long deleted. So while he despises the format, he’s happy that it gives him that access.
He chooses track four from a compilation CD. Cranks the volume up a notch; lies back and takes a huge toke from a Camberwell Carrot.
ELOs 10538 Overture blasts from the speakers; the riff tears the room to shreds. He nods his head in time with the I am a Walrus chug of the song.
I hear John Lennon, he says. I hear Handbags and Gladrags, and Cream, halfway through Badge. The riff that was stolen by Boston.
He knows his friend is listening , so he continues.
I hear Nick Drake, the Chime of a City Clock. And then that classical Elgar stuff.
Its not Elgar John his friend has to say. Its Coronation Scot, an old Radio theme my dad used to like.
The dialogue has not been written, I’m working on it.
So why did John O’Hara choose ELO as opposed to AC/DC or even Nirvana. Chance, just the way I chose it. The method part came in the listening. I listened to the song a lot. I adsorbed it the way my character would. And I used the musical knowledge I’ve accumulated to break it down; just the way John would.
Coronation Scot is a real radio theme. It’s old, yet no one lives in a musical bubble. O’Hara could have heard it in New Zealand; the BBC had a wide reach when radio was king. Although its more plausible for an English person to know; I’m familiar with it after all. But the scene is not about musical trainspotting. Its about the way certain men communicate with each other using music; a sort of telepathy of song.
10538 Overture may not actually make it to the finish novel. But I’ve had fun in the meantime. And if writing doesn’t include an element of fun, then its sheer drudgery.
Go on, put on a song; speak in secret alphabets.